With the holidays coming up and the idea of Thanksgiving dinner rolls I thought I would share some basic principles about baking with yeast.  This isn’t really a recipe, more of a how to / stuff you should know. Yeast isn’t something that is very hard to understand but if not understood it can ruin a loaf of bread or a good roll. I fall victim to simple mistakes all of the time. A few weeks ago I made cinnamon rolls and let them proof too long. They turned out completely flat. If you know how much work cinnamon rolls are, you know what a disappointment that was.

What I am sharing about yeast I learned in my cooking class back in college. I don’t know all of the technical processes and reactions that take place in yeast, but its not necessary for you to know those either. I will share a few good tips that I have learned and hopefully help you understand what a few terms mean.  If you are interested in making your own dinner rolls this Thanksgiving check out this family recipe I shared a while back. It’s the recipe for my husband’s Grandma Joan’s dinner rolls.

Grandma's Fluffy Dinner Rolls


Yeast is one of four main leaveners used in baking. We use leavening agents when we bake to allow our product to rise and produce the right texture. A single baked good can rely on one of these methods or multiple methods of leavening.


The Main Leavening Agents:

  • Yeast: uses the release of gases to produce a leavening action
  • Chemical Leaveners: release gases produced by chemical reactions. Typically from baking soda or baking powder.
  • Air: uses air that is incporporated into the batter by either creaming (beating fat and sugar together, such as cookies and cakes) or by foaming (beating eggs).
  • Steam: water in the baked product turns to steam during the baking process.


Types of Yeast:

Fresh yeast: used mostly by professional bakers, it is a moist yeast that spoils more quickly.

Active dry yeast: dry ganular form of yeast. It must be re-hydrated in warm water before use. This is the form of yeast I most often use.

Instant dry yeast: this yeast is also called rapid-rise, or quick rise yeast. It is also a dry granular form of yeast, but does not need to be dissolved in water before you use it. It can be added in its dry form to your recipe. It will produce more gases and absorb water more quickly so less instant dry yeast is needed than active dry yeast.

Terms & Directions Associated with Yeast Products:


Often when baking you will be asked to Activate / re-hydrate your yeast. This process is used for Active Dry Yeast. To proof your yeast you will simply re-hydrate your yeast in warm water. Your recipe should call for water. You will want to use the amount listed in your recipe. The temperature of the water should be slightly warm. If it is too cool of water the yeast will slow. If it is too warm it will kill the reaction. I rarely measure the temperature of my water, but an ideal temperature is between 80-110 degrees. This procedure re-hydrates your yeast and ensures your yeast will provide good leavening. Let your yeast acticate for 5-10 minutes. Its ok to gently stir the yeast into the water. If you see bubbles and foam begin to appear, your yeast is active and you can proceed and add your yeast mixture to your ingredients.   


Activated yeast, notice the foam and bubbles on top

Fermentation / Rising is the process where yeast releases gas and produces the leavening action. This is when yeast produces gases by acting on the sugar and starches in your dough. To ferment a yeast dough place the mixed dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. This keeps a crust from forming. Then let the dough rise at a temperature of about 80 degrees. Fermentation is complete when the dough has doubled in size. A dough that ferments or rises too long will become sticky and hard to work with. A dough that ferments too little or doesn’t rise enough will make a coarse dough and won’t develop the proper finished volume.


Folding / Punching dough is the process where you allow the gases to escape and the gluten to relax. You simply pull up on the dough, fold it over, and press down. You are then able to divide your dough and portion as needed. This is often followed by a benching / resting period of 10-15 minutes. The dough is then shaped into loaves, rolls, etc. and placed on the baking sheets.


After your dough has been formed allow your dough to Proof / Rise.  This continues the process of yeast fermentation to increase the volume of the shaped dough. This is typically done at a slightly warmer more humid temperature or in a proof box. Again under proofing makes for a poor volume and dense product. Over proofing makes a coarse texture.


Grandmas Fluffy Dinner Rolls



Good luck this holiday season with your baking adventures. Hopefully being more familiar with what yeast is, how it is used, and terms associated with it this helps you with the dinner rolls, loaves of bread, and baked goods you plan to make.




Here’s a little about me: I usually don’t buy things that I could make. I like to read and learn. I have dreams of being a mom, living in foreign countries, and trying new things. I take a ton of pictures. I collect rocks from the places I’ve been. I’m trying to learn French. I like to eat. I’m a Mormon.

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